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How Can Private Practice Firms Retain the Best Lawyers?
Partners who head up commercial contracts teams often ask us, “How do we stop our best lawyers from making the move to in-house?” In-house legal teams are constantly looking to expand their commercial expertise and offering compelling packages.
Unfortunately, if somebody has their heart set on making the switch out of private practice it can be difficult to stop them. This is compounded by the fact that strong commercial lawyers are always in demand and there is a shortage of quality candidates.
So Why are Lawyers Looking to Move In-house?
- Better work/life balance and flexibility
- The opportunity to be more involved in decisions and strategies
- Avoid pay-per-hour model
- Chance to be involved in big-ticket projects from inception to completion
- Better pay and benefits
The list is not comprehensive and, of course, every in-house role is different. There are private practice opportunities that offer similar benefits and opportunities, and we speak with in-house lawyers who work very long hours.
But some of the factors can’t be avoided, like billable hours and time recording. If you are a commercial partner, you should be aware of some of these key drivers. Look into anything you can do now to pre-empt any of these issues coming to the forefront within your team. Here are some recommendations.
Implement Flexible Working Options
A large number of law firms now encourage a more agile approach to work. This can include working part-time, allowing staff to work from home where needed, and just generally creating a culture of trust, where lawyers don’t feel like stay late even if they’ve completed their work.
Discuss Career Development and Aspirations
We strongly recommend that you maintain an open dialogue with your commercial lawyers on a regular basis. Discuss their career path within your firm, their aspirations, and any concerns that they have. On both sides of the fence, hiring managers need to appreciate the motivations of lawyers and be able to provide a working environment which meets their needs.
A common mistake is that quite often these conversations are left to official reviews and they are not happening as regularly as they should. A lot can happen in the months between review periods, and by then it could be too late if that lawyer has started to question their future in the team.
Offer a Variety of Work
Private practice teams are in a great position in that they will get a genuine mix of instructions from a range of clients. This can be different from some in-house positions where that variety can be missing.
Commercial Partners should use this to their advantage, allowing their lawyers to have a truly diverse caseload of work where possible. This variety can be very important to junior lawyers who do not want to pigeonhole themselves into a certain area or type of work too early in their career.
Of course, as lawyers develop, they may have a natural leaning towards a particular type of commercial work. Again, this ties into the importance of maintaining that open dialogue with your team and having a clear understanding about the type of work they want to be undertaking.
Recruit Other Lawyers
There are two key reasons why you should keep a constant eye on potential recruits: (1) succession planning and (2) alleviating the pressure from other fee-earners, which allows them to achieve a good work/life balance.
A gripe from a lot of commercial lawyers that we speak with is that they are over-stretched and their teams struggle without additional resources and support.
Having flexibility on your recruitment needs is also important. If you are waiting for the perfect five-year PQE commercial solicitor to become available, then you could be waiting for some time, which in turn keeps your other lawyers stretched and overworked.